Tuition - necessary or not?

It comes as no surprise in an extremely grades-obsessed country like Singapore, the private tuition industry is ever flourishing, so much so it has in recent years become a billion dollar juggernaut of an affair. Kiddo attends tuition classes for two, three, no make that four subjects. Almost everyone in his class engages external tutors; ditto for his cousins, cousins' classmates....... you get the drift. Probably only his goldfish is spared. Parents willingly shell out thousands year after year to send their progeny to "branded" centres, while others pay top dollar just to entice seasoned educators to swing by and conduct 1-1 coaching in the comfort of their homes. At the end of the day, one question always lingers above all: was it money well-spent, or simply flushed down the toilet? Over at Reddit Singapore an interesting debate about this takes place, with a significant number of Reddiporeans coming forward to share their thoughts by leveraging on their personal experiences :

By Library Hantu:

"I'm in the enrichment industry these days and I can comfortably state that "(almost) every tutor is a good tutor" is untrue.

I speak a fair bit with the parents of my students and it's common to hear them complain about the difficulty of finding a tutor. That's why word of mouth is so valuable in this industry, parents can wind up going through literally dozens of tutors to find a suitable candidate for their children.

Some of the complaints I've heard include:

1. Inappropriate behaviour - Tutor called the student "a stupid son of a b***h" in front of the parents. The parents were okay with some swearing, since the son is an older student who occasionally swears, however that really crossed the line. The context wasn't an argument either, the tutor was commenting on a mistake the student had made.

2. Excessive cellphone use during lessons - This is an increasingly common complaint among parents.

3. Scheduling issues - Tutors who don't show up for lessons, consistently reschedule, or are consistently late.

4. Tutors who simply have no clue about what they're doing.

Parents often put up with folks from the third group if they are able to deliver results as finding a good tutor can be incredibly difficult. Seeking replacements can be easy due to the proliferation of agencies and avenues available, then again landing a capable hire who is well-tuned to the needs of the child is an entirely different ballgame."

By cokelemon:

"Group tuition didn't help but 1-1 tuition did, at least for me. That being said, it boils down to whether one has engaged really effective tutors.

Chinese: Attended group tuition, it didn't really help much. Switched to 1-1 and I eventually scored a distinction for Higher Chinese (HCL) in PSLE. Flunked HCL in lower secondary and was made to drop to CL, fortunately met a good CL tutor whilst studying in upper secondary who genuinely cared and I improved from a mere pass to an A2 for the 'O' Levels.

Math: Attended group tuition in primary school, yet grades didn't really advance. Was a straight E8 student for A Maths in upper secondary, all the way to the preliminary examinations. Also had a good tutor who refused to give up on me, even met up with a group of us at a cafe on a public holiday near the 'O' Levels to assist with our queries. I ended up with a much better B4 grade for the 'O' Levels.

I reckon 1-1 tuition is good as the tutor can personalize the education to target the student's weaknesses, and certainly necessary if the student doesn't have any good teachers in school (like myself back then)."

By 0neTwoTree:

"Yes, tuition is necessary. Sometimes teachers just aren't good enough despite our ministers' claims of "every school is a good school". They're either incompetent or too stressed out to deliver proper guidance to students. Even had a teacher inform me in the face that I would fail the 'O' Levels and implored me to simply drop the subject because she "didn't want me to get stuck in a fruitless struggle and badly affect my other grades in the process" (everyone knows that this is just the school's shitty way of keeping up their record of % students who score As on a subject basis).

Personally I had immense difficulties coping with Biology and Chemistry during secondary school and attended tuition classes for both subjects. While Biology tuition didn't really work out that well, Chemistry tuition turned out to be a life-saver."

By demonicdan3:

"Did absolutely nothing, in fact tuition was plain harmful. It took away the already little free time I had and made me even more dissatisfied and uninterested in studying, which ultimately impacted my education journey negatively. Really f**king hated how tuition was forced upon me by my parents. Pretty sure back then my grades actually dropped after attending multiple tuition sessions.

Really depends on the mindset one possesses with regards to seeking external academic assistance, IMO. I wouldn't force tuition onto my kids if they were unwilling."

By deadmantizwalking:

"Yeah tuition worked, at least for me.

I was terrible in Maths all the way from the primary level till secondary 2. During this while I attended two small private tuition classes and they were both mediocre; one tutor was biased as hell towards females (class was helmed by an old pervert), and the other only knew how to criticize incessantly.

Then I attended a larger class comprising more than 6 students. It was refreshing that this tutor was both friendly and willing to teach. Naturally I was much more inclined to pose questions. Consequently my Math grades improved.

The moral of the story is: to attain proper success one half is attributed to the student’s passion to learn. Now I am not going to be an idiot and say “oh you have to love Math and experience an orgasm every time you get down to revising the subject”. What I meant by passion is having the self motivation and responsibility as a student to seek answers to your queries. Do not feel bad or scared to ask, after all truth is you are the boss since you paid them to teach you stuff! Request for the teachers’s e-mail address( or other means of reaching out), and ask away, period. Look for them in the office if necessary. ASK THEM QUESTIONS AS SOON AS THEY SURFACE WITHIN YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS! It would be suicidal to leave everything to the very last minute...

Another 30% is attributed to the teacher. If the teacher sucks, then tough luck you probably have little to no chance of being properly taught by them. (A tiny hack: you can actually learn online! There are tons of videos and notes posted on the internet, so be sure to make full use of these resources!)

The remaining 20%? Being able to create your own set of notes. I can't emphasize this enough, notes feature knowledge personally formatted in bite-sized quantities to help reinforce and recapitulate concepts previously learned. These help tremendously especially if you are a forgetful person like myself. Transcribe to paper essential points, not contents of the entire textbook.

So yeah, tuition helps if teachers in school suck. But ultimately it depends on the individual student's determination to fare well in assessments and being responsible for his/her studies. And please, please educate your kids on the importance of asking questions. Let them know they can always consult the teacher in private!

PS: Yours sincerely is presently studying in NTU."

By lajf234:

"Had tuition since primary school all the way to junior college; felt majority of the tutors I encountered weren't of much help. Could only recall a handful who made a significant impact.

First instance happened when I was studying in secondary 3. I failed my mid year examination for A Maths. In honesty the teacher in charge of my class was very good, however I just didn’t get it. In the end I attended tuition, at the same time consulted my school teacher every morning with questions accumulated from doing extra practice problems. My tutor wasn’t good at teaching, yet I somehow benefited perhaps because tuition meant sitting down with him and peppering the dude with endless queries for 2 hours straight each time. I guess attending tuition sort of coerces you to get things done, especially if you lack self discipline. Eventually I topped the cohort for the A Maths preliminary examinations and continued to fare well in Maths throughout JC due to a strong foundation previously established.

Second instance happened in junior college. I was failing Economics since the beginning of J1. I enrolled in a tuition centre and met this tutor who was very proficient at ingraining basic concepts through repeated drilling (the whole affair only lasted for a few months though because no one joined the class and it was eventually canceled). In addition I consistently approached my school teacher for personal consultations; I therefore managed to score an A for the subject in the 'A' Levels.

The third and final instance also took place whilst I was a junior college student. My teacher in school didn’t teach the subject very well, as a consequence I was left confused most of the time and typically scored only Cs and Ds. The turnaround came when I took a leap of faith and joined a tuition class based on a friend's recommendation. Amazingly this tutor not only knew how to articulate complicated sounding stuff in the simplest manner possible; he always cuts to the chase and never beats around the bush. He made it crystal clear upfront the concepts we needed to know and how to properly apply them when attempting questions. Eventually I also achieved an A for the subject in the 'A' Levels, all thanks to him.

Save for these 3 mentioned above, all my other tutors were pretty useless.

My situation aside, school teachers can still make a big difference. If they teach competently and are willing to stay back on campus for consultations, tuition largely isn't necessary. Of course you must also do your part by putting in extra effort to seriously learn and get things sorted out."

By panjangaf:

"Nope, I don't think tuition is ever necessary. Back in junior college when I was stuck with a shitty Economics teacher, some of my classmates would consult other teachers in the department and seek help from them instead. Most of my friends and myself never sought tuition and we still managed to do well for the 'A'levels (≥ 87.5 rank points). Meanwhile, I knew of someone who attended 5 tuition lessons a week (1 for every subject except Project Work, I shit you not). Tuition fees alone came up to 2-3k monthly. He was so swarmed with tuition homework that he neglected school work; it didn't help he possessed the misplaced mindset that tuition was 'superior' to school tutorials and would always do his tuition homework during class. You can probably see what I'm driving at, he didn't do well in the 'A's and ended up with near straight Bs (80 rank points).

In my opinion tuition was unnecessary when I was studying in junior college because I had great teachers to turn to for the most part. They'd never hesitate to accommodate our requests for consultations and on top of that they taught really well."

By kopipeng:

"I had tuition for 'O' Levels but not for the 'A's.

During the 'O's I took up tuition because I was unable to cope with a variety of subjects (namely Maths, Chemistry and Physics) in secondary 3. Initially I thought the lessons were great because I learnt stuff earlier than my peers and I could ask my tutor anything anytime. However as the 'O's drew closer I got into the hang of studying by myself and depended much less on tuition lessons; surprisingly I also witnessed significant improvements in my results. At the same time with regards to humanities subjects I consulted my school teachers on a regular basis, eliciting tips and making my own set of notes consistent with advice offered; things also turned out great in the end.

For the 'A's I can safely say that I was self driven and had the discipline to keep studying all the way through the examinations. Revision-wise I started revving things up in June and admittedly contemplated signing up for tuition because I felt quite helpless as far as Economics and General Paper were concerned. Eventually I didn’t do so because they were either too costly or occurred at odd timings which were disruptive to my studying routine. So I followed the protocol employed during the 'O's: consulting teachers regularly, letting them mark my work, making my own notes. I scored decently in the 'A' Levels afterwards (not straight As though).

Honestly for myself, tuition did not really help much in terms of mastering content specifics, rather it imbued in me the ability to approach the subject better and having the balls to consult the tutors themselves (I mean why not, since I paid for their services). The general revision techniques I gleaned from the 'O's were applicable to the 'A's, and by then, I had already developed a habit of constantly consulting my tutors whenever I had doubts. One-on-one consultations certainly helped me considerably because my tutors can specifically point out my mistakes and rectify them, what’s more after a few sessions they get acquainted with my learning style and can therefore better personalize their teaching methods.

Beyond that I don’t think tuition is effective for me because I think to do well in examinations, it really boils down to your attitude and discipline towards studying in general. You must set aside sufficient time to plan and execute your revision endeavors. Tuition certainly helps you to maintain some semblance of routine, however you are still pretty much on your own outside of lessons. However if your general attitude towards learning sucks then all the tutoring in the world isn't gonna do you much good.

I’m also not saying that tuition is entirely useless; it has proven useful for some of my friends who struggled with their studies and were totally clueless on how to approach the subject, or encountered pretty useless school teachers. Tuition helps you learn more with “less effort” because tutors know the ins and outs of the subject as well as the latest trends which examination questions are based upon. Still it’s really up to you to make full use of the external help rendered and augment things with a slice of your own sincere efforts."

Carefully harvested and edited for clarity by the Czar (Site Founder)

Dated 27 May 2018


The tuition industry is supported by parentocracy.

Tuition in Singapore is a billion-dollar industry

To hire a tutor or not depends on the prevailing situation